Saturday, September 30, 2023

Poem a Day, Quantity Begets Quality

I read a (pdf warning) really interesting paper recently about writing a poem a day.  It got me thinking about quantity and quality in a lot of things in life besides just writing poems (though I did have a haiku-a-day habit for a while during the pandemic; it helped me mark the passage of seasonal time while basically locked in solitary confinement in an apartment).  One interesting passage:

In the book Art & Fear, they tell a story—which may be true, maybe not—of a university pottery class broken into two halves. One half was told their grades depended on the quality of the one pot they each handed in, and other was told their grades depended on the total weight of all their semester’s pieces. That is, each person in the first group would work however they wanted, but that person’s grade was determined by the quality of a single piece; each person in the second group would work all semester, and at the end each person would put all their pieces on a gigantic scale: 50 lbs and up was an A, 40–50 lbs was a B, etc. The best pieces of course all came from the group going for weight. The reasons are probably that the second group had no reason to fear the artistic process while they were learning craft techniques, and that they were practicing and experimenting through repetition.

But I think one of the most important reasons for their having the best work was that they could select the best piece rather than shepherd it along. You see, the first group could have worked this way too, but they all decided to just focus on making one perfect pot. Which is what we do as poets often.

I suspect that some DMs are tempted to do the same, trying to make one really good dungeon instead of ten dungeons, one of which is actually good.

It's interesting that he doesn't really couch it in the language of habit, though I suspect that once it does become habit the barrier to beginning on any given day is very low.  I kind of wonder if this is how eg Dyson works.  Dyson is incredibly prolific and it has to be a habit.  It also makes me wonder how Dyson picks which maps will get published where and what fraction he considers to be experiments that turned out mediocre / not worth publishing.

To a certain extent this is also the Dungeon23 approach, of making a habit of producing a little bit of a dungeon every day.  Dungeon23, though, seems to not really want to select / discard down to just the good bits at the end, instead throwing them all into a big megadungeon.

I am also reminded of evolutionary algorithms / reproduce-and-select, fuzzing, and distillation.  These are all kinda the same processes; produce lots of stuff, most of which isn't what you want, and then pick out the good bits and work from there.  Stupid generation processes that you do a lot of will still generate good stuff from time to time and it's just a question of separating it out.  And a human producing things will tend to increase quality of the mash over time, in a way that a pot still won't.

It's probably also true of sessions.  If you want to have great games, run lots of games, don't sit there prepping for the perfect game.  If you want to run great sessions, run lots of sessions - many will be mediocre but some will be great.  These are harder because you can't really throw away the bad ones; they still get inflicted on your players.

Possibly also of games/procedures/systems too.  Maybe this is an advantage of the rules-light / approach that I hadn't considered.  When you make lots of very small games, you get to iterate quickly, highlight the stuff that you think is the best, and sort of bury the stuff that turned out mediocre.  Arguably that's kind of how I blog!  Publish first, then link people to the ones that turn out to be relevant or that keep returning to mind, and the ones that nobody cares about just sit there doing very little harm.

1 comment:

  1. You can turn it around - if you want to prep a truly great game, don't just sit there running the usual stuff you run, start prepping your perfect game today, one dungeon at a time. Because you will never get better at preparing games if you only run sessions. It's no joke, I checked it - campaigns run with little or no prep feel shallow.
    So worldbuilding and actual refereeing are two distinct entities. Excelling at one while ignoring the other gives unfulfilling results. You can't run an interesting dungeoncrawl, if your dungeon is content-lite. You can't design a great dungeon, if you never run dungeoncrawls. I guess regular alternating between the two is the way to go: you have created your first dungeon, you run it and see how it goes, then you get back to building, and then you run it again - a short cycle.